WESTFIELD, NJ — The leaves are long gone but the gas-powered blowers are still making noise.
Jon Spitz, a Dorian Road resident, is lobbying the municipality to find a fix for loud gas-powered leaf blowers that he said contractors are using to blow grass clippings into the street.
“This is a huge quality of life issue for 20 percent of the people who, like me, are over-the-top annoyed by it,” Spitz told the Town Council this week. “My wife, for instance, is not annoyed by it.” However, she is concerned about the pollution from the blowers, he said.
Town Attorney Tom Jardim said during a council workshop this week that the options for regulating such noise are limited.
“Other than a complete ban on gas-powered equipment like this, it is very difficult to come up with a policy that actually works in some way that’s going to grant relief to the residents of Westfield,” Jardim said. “The committee is all ears to [hearing] what policy options are available,” he added.
On Thursday, Mayor Shelley Brindle said Spitz would be forwarding those suggestions to the town.
“He is going to send us some proposed policy solutions on that for consideration,” Brindle said. “Once we review them, we’ll determine next steps, including the potential formation of a committee, if deemed necessary.”
Westfield’s existing regulations may provide some relief. The town ordinance allows for up to 65 decibels of noise outdoors from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Some leaf blowers can exceed that level.
What have other municipalities done?
Westfield is not the first municipality to wrestle with the regulation of noisy leaf blowers.
In 2017, Maplewood made headlines with a ban prohibiting the use of gas-powered blowers from May 15 – Sept. 30.
While the seasonal ban on gas-powered leaf blowers was widely popular, even receiving an endorsement from the Star Ledger’s Editorial Board, the regulation landed Maplewood in federal court when the New Jersey Landscaper Contractors Association sued on behalf of nine landscapers in that township.
The lawsuit takes that township to task for targeting with its ordinance commercial entities using gas-powered leaf blowers. Court records show that the parties have been working toward a settlement but have yet to reach one.
Sonia Alves-Viveiros, the business administrator in Maplewood, said that since the Township Committee approved the controversial regulation, her office has not received complaints about noise from leaf blowers.
“I haven’t received any complaints about it. It’s been quiet. It has certainly been helpful in that sense,” Alves-Viveiros said. “Several people we know of work from home, and those are the people I would have heard from.”
In Westfield, Spitz admits a Maplewood-style blower ban is not the best option. “You don’t want have happen like what happened in Maplewood, where people were so ludicrous over the situation that they [nearly] came to blows,” he said.
Like in Westfield, Summit is also looking at a potential ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, but city officials first want to see what happens in the Maplewood court case, said Amy Cairns, spokeswoman for the city.
“Everyone acknowledges that not only do they emit harmful toxins into the environment, it’s bad for workers to use them all day — for their breathing for their hearing — but it’s also their livelihood,” Cairns said.
In Clark, the noise control regulations apply to gas-powered leaf blowers, but do not call out gas-powered blowers or commercial entities specifically. The law prohibits “the operation of any noise-creating blower or power fan or any internal-combustion engine, the operation of which causes noise due to the explosion of operation gases or fluids.” The regulation allows for an exception if the device is equipped with a muffler.
Scotch Plains lumps the regulation of leaf blowers in with the use of other noisy lawn care equipment and reminds the public to limit the use of such equipment from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Taking it to the public
In 1996, Montclair Township let voters decide on a seasonal gas-powered leaf blower ban. The anti-blower voters won the referendum by a thin margin: 2,815 to 2,093, according to the Montclair Times. And 26 years later, gas-powered leaf blowers may only be used March 1 – June 30 in that township, under the regulation in force.
Spitz, for his part, simply hopes to put a damper on the noise in his neighborhood. He told the council he wants to educate homeowners on the issue so they ask their landscapers to cut back on the blowing.
“The noise is very stressful and it really changes the dynamic of the town,” Spitz added. “You can’t go for a 15 minute period in the morning where you don’t hear these in the Tamaques area.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh